The Lighthouse

the lighthouse

29 December 2008


I thought that the 'stages of grief' were like train stations: you approach, you spend time there, then you pull away and leave it behind. Turns out these stages are not nearly so predictably or sequentially arranged, and like anything, the experience is entirely personal.

Though there are different models, the general understanding of grief is that we pass through: denial; anger; bargaining; depression; acceptance. These are met not necessarily in order, and not necessarily only once. I find myself cycling through them randomly and varyingly depending on my own mental state and the latest news. Denial is a frequent companion...he and I have become very close. I know that my dad is very sick; I feel it with my hands when I touch his poor, frail body. But I hope for healing - I hear in his voice that he doesn't want to leave us, though he is preparing us, the house, the car, and himself for him not being here anymore. I love him so for being so concerned for us - particularly mom - that even now he is concerned about details like water filters.

And that leads me to anger. Such a man, such a fighter, a worrier, a provider...he has so much to give us - his wife, his daughters, grandchildren and friends... why does he have to go now? What will we do without him? I'm angry at God. It doesn't make sense, because at the same time I am a person of faith. I know that God loves us, that He loves my dad, and even though we are losing my dad's physical presence, he will be waiting for us in heaven, and there he will be without pain. He will once again be the strong and vibrant, funny man I now mourn, and more than that, he will be glorified. That is God's promise, that is what the Cross paid for.

I haven't done any bargaining, but I do feel guilt. I am guilty of wanting my dad here with me, of not wanting to let him go, of being willing to forfeit his eternal rest now, for my own sake. I am guilty of not surrendering my own desire, of not trusting God's mercy enough to be at peace. I am guilty of fear. What will become of me without my dad to look out for me? Horribly, I am also guilty of having days when I forget to be sad, and I act as if life is normal again.

Depression? Yes, there is that, too. Days of fatigue, of inability to think clearly or make decisions. It can feel like nothing matters. Then it lifts like a fog and I get my bearings, and am able to navigate life for a while. It's a glimplse of the other side, when we're in a place we can say "remember...?" and that after-time is normal.

There hasn't been a great deal of acceptance yet. Not deep down and lasting, anyway. I have the occasional mental ability to accept that Pop's death is a reality but I have developed the knack of keeping it in the realm of Frodo leaving Middle Earth for the Undying Lands: it's unbearably sad, but as much as it hurts, it isn't really true. And isn't that strange, considering everything I've written above? It must be real to me on some level, or I wouldn't be grieving. Not even I cry everyday over poor Frodo.

So, I'm not on a train: I'm grieving. It's not logical, it doesn't really make sense. If it manifested physically, what I'm experiencing would look like Pig Pen's cloud: it's always with me, and it's a confused tangle. I pray that God's grace and mercy will carry us through this. I pray for my dad to have a holy death. I pray for Jesus to guide him safely home, and I ask for the gift of one day being with him in eternal life.

28 December 2008

Holy Family

Today is the Feast of the Holy Family. Family can be a group of people living under one roof, people related by common ancestry, or people united by a common cause. We are all born into a family, but we also construct families of our own choosing over time.
The traditional family unit is the centre of life - culturally as well as spiritually. At its most basic, it is parents raising children for the continuation of the family, but as family units connect with other families, community is formed...a broader understanding of family.
Family is about relationship by the simple fact that family is comprised of more than one person. In his homily today, our Deacon related family to the story of Adam and Eve: God created all manner of things - plants, fish, birds, animals - and saw that they were good. Finally, He created man, but it was not good, for man was alone, and so He drew Eve from Adam's side. Adam himself realized that this was a special relationship - "bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh" - and there we have the first human family, a gift from God.
What happens next? On the seventh day, God ordains a day of rest. Not only do we rest from our labour, but it is a tithe of our time which we give to God in honour of our familial relationship with Him. He is our Father; we are His children. God is wise: we need this time of rest in order to carry on with our duties and responsibilities. We need this time in order to foster our family life, as well as our spiritual life.
I always feel great peace when I reflect on the Holy Family. I used to think it was because they were perfect: you have Mary, born without sin; Jesus, Son of God and the promised Messiah; and then Joseph, who may have been a 'mere mortal' but he must have been pretty holy to end up in that home, right? Well, yes, that is indeed a lot of holiness under one roof. And yet, consider what they had to deal with: on the road by donkey while heavily pregnant, having your child in a stable, being hunted by a man who wanted your child dead, having to flee your country at a moments notice and so on. This was not a family without struggle or strife, and yet, I believe it was a peaceful family, a joyful family, a simple family. I think Joseph was an honest, hardworking man who provided for his family and guided them wisely as head of his household. Mary kept her home prudently and lovingly, teaching and forming her child. Jesus did what children are supposed to do: honoured his parents and grew into a man. They met their religious obligations, and lived righteously.
While they are a rather exceptional family, they are also wonderfully approachable: Mary is our heavenly Mother, Jesus is our Brother, and Joseph is the patron of families, so we are also part of their family. And, we can use them as our model of family life, or ask for their help when we need it.
For all those without family at this time of year, I pray you receive solace from the Family of Bethlehem.


Have just finished another installment of The Lord of the Rings and I think, after everything, I'd like to be a hobbit.They are simple, peaceful, homey, companionable... content. I used to want to be an elf, but as well as lacking roughly six inches, I'm afraid I'd soon find it a tiresome business to be forever drifting about, being all ethereal. Of course, the elves are somewhat glamorous and oh so elegant, but I can't imagine them sitting around the table, enjoying a toothsome meal with some animated conversation; they'd as soon stand wispily about, composing odes to the stars. While that may have some appeal (if the composing is done while dressed in flowing robes, and I had those six inches) even elegance would be wearing after thousands of years. Perhaps that's why elves went to war, while hobbits stayed happily at home.

26 December 2008

St. Stephen

Today (December 26th) commemorates the Feast of St. Stephen, in the Roman calendar. St. Stephen is known as the Protomartyr, or, first Martyr. Once again, the Church shows a wonderful understanding of Deeper Truth by placing martyrdom immediately following the Nativity.

This post, however, is only indirectly about St. Stephen, and rather more about The Lord of the Rings, or more precisely, The Fellowship of the Ring as interpreted by Peter Jackson. The film trilogy is inspired by the books by J.R.R. Tolkien and diverges from that inspiration in several ways - at times because film always must - but the first installment in particular is very close in spirit if not in letter to The Book itself. For one thing, The Fellowship is so successful at transporting the viewer into Middle Earth that elves, dwarves, warped orcs and screeching wraiths are accepted without question. Jackson and his able crew infuse every frame of film with the atmosphere of Hobbiton, Rivendell, Moria, Lothlorian and the wilds of Middle Earth so thoroughly I always believe I could drink from the tea cups in Bilbo's kitchen, and slap Pippin upside the head for being such a turkey.

I just watched The Fellowship, and was struck once again by the theme of sacrifice running throughout the story. Bravery, honour and humility are also present, along with the overriding good versus evil, but sacrifice is the one that ties in with St. Stephen, whose day this is. Almost every character in the story sacrifices something; I have selected only a few from The Fellowship of the Ring which illustrate donation of self.

Samwise Gamgee, brave servant of Frodo, has his own doubts and fears (not to mention his own dreams involving a certain Rosie Cotton) but despite them he follows Frodo, and ends up playing a vital role in the fate of Middle Earth. At the beginning of his journey though, he has no idea what terrors,trials and sacrifices lie ahead. He doesn't question his ability to save the world, he merely accepts his small role in the bigger story, and proceeds step by step to the bleakest place imaginable - a place so bleak that hope is leeched from the landscape. Sam doesn't even know if he will ever make it back home, or if his quest will be successful, yet he sacrifices every dream and plan for his future in order to help Frodo. Sam begins his journey much as we do: we usually don't know where we're headed or precisely what we're going to be asked to do. That is God's mercy...and wisdom! at work. He knows that if we knew we were going to have to trudge to Mordor we'd say no thanks and remain behind at the Green Dragon pub, courting the love of our life and drinking half pints until we stumbled home to our cosy hobbit holes.

Merry and Pippin offer themselves as a sacrifice for Frodo, first by joining him on the road to Bree, then in a very direct and dramatic way by distracting the rampaging orcs allowing him to escape across the river, and thereby being taken hostage by the orc army themselves instead. They both go on to make specific and personal contributions to the outcome of the story, but I believe their biggest role was this moment of selflessness on behalf of their friend. Being a companion to someone who has undertaken an arduous task is easy to overlook as being a sacrifice, but it is. It entails abandoning your own time and plans to be at the service of someone else, and is not easy to do without question. There may come a moment when you have the opportunity to offer yourself in their place, and perhaps the companionship that comes first enable you to do so.

Gandalf falls to the Balrog when attempting to fend it off so the Fellowship could reach safety outside the Mines of Moria. By choosing to take a stand against the Balrog when he did, Gandalf made it possible for Frodo and the ring to continue on. (One important lesson to learn from Gandalf is to never turn your back on evil; never assume you are free from it until you have seen its dead and withered corpse on the ground.)

Frodo himself makes the ultimate sacrifice - donation of self. Everything he is, is given to the quest. In Lothlorien he laments to Galadriel having to bear the burden of the ring by himself. I love her response to him: she does not console, cajole, or give false courage. She acknowledges the effort required, and tells him that to bear a ring of power is to be alone...but also that "even the smallest may change the course of history". We are told that God does not give us a burden we cannot carry, and that we do not carry it alone. It can often feel like the opposite is true though, and that we are like Frodo: aching and weary from the effort, and perhaps even altered or twisted by the chore. However, like Frodo, while it may look like we're only carrying a ring (a very small burden) we are in fact changing the course of history.

The character whose sacrifice always has the greatest impact on me is that of Boromir. He struggles for a very long time with the desire to be the Hero, save Gondor, and defeat Mordor by using the ring himself. He becomes obsessed with the ring to the point that it destroys his reason and wisdom. He makes an attempt to overpower Frodo and force the ring from him, but is wrenched back to his senses in time to regain his honour and integrity by giving his own life in order to save his friends. As he lays dying, he confesses his wrongdoing, asks forgiveness, and acknowledges Aragorn as his king. His actions sever the Fellowship, and yet it is quite likely the quest would have failed if the Nine had remained together. His sacrifice enabled each member to find and fulfill their own role. Not many of us are called to dramatic action like Bormir, but I'm sure many of us have experienced his struggle with false pride and temptation. His ultimate sacrifice was dying to self - he surrendered his lust for power, his grand schemes and plans, and his nagging desire for the ring. When we are able to do the same, along with confessing our wrongdoings, seeking forgiveness, and acknowledging our King, we allow The Quest to continue.

St. Stephen's death also dispersed a Fellowship (Christians), resulting in the spread of Christianity and the salvation of many. The Church is wise to remind us of the cost of faith so soon after we celebrate the Birth of Christ. Yet while we will have to make sacrifices, we do have the consolation that even the smallest among us can change the course of history.

22 December 2008

Cookie sheets

Shopping is agony, have you noticed? Especially at this time of year,when every Tom, Dick and Harriet, Uncle Bob, and their dog is out shopping too. Uncle Bob tends to browse and wander very very slowly, while Harriet stands in the middle of the aisle examining her list. Tom and Dick circle the same department again and again like a plane waiting for clearance to land. They do this two-abreast so no one else can land in the meantime.

Despite the firm resolve to keep a simple Christmas, and a long-standing tradition of restrained giftgiving, there are still supplies and sundries to be purchased which necessitates leaving the warm safety of home to brave the madness of the shops...and roads.

First of all, this city is experiencing a bus strike, which means the usually high number of cars on the roads is even higher. Then, the modern idea of a parking lot is not about ease-of-use. The entrances are obscure, the right-of-ways are unclear, pedestrians set themselves up as easy targets, and never can you find a spot near the store you are going to visit.

Then, there is the actual frustration of shopping. Products are discontinued or 'improved' on a monthly basis (do not become attached to your shampoo; it's not going to be available for long.) Sometimes the choice is overwhelming, and can require hours of consultation and discernment.

What I was looking for on this occasion was a cookie sheet. You'd presume it would be fairly straightforward, the work of merely seconds to scan the options, toss it in the cart and dash to the nearest (or rather shortest) checkout and escape the vast-store-that-sells-everything before it absorbs you whole. (I'm sure poor lost people wander the aisles everyday calling out 'exit! exit! in a desperate plea to be magically removed from their surroundings. It's no stretch of reality that a book and movie had a young woman live in the store and deliver her baby in that store without anyone having a clue she was there.)

Wouldn't you know it: cookie sheets have become complicated over the years. There were so many to choose from, I needed a map to find my way back to the beginning of the selection. There are different finishes, depths, rims, shapes, was almost intimidating...and I once bungee-jumped, so I'm not super easy to intimidate. Regardless, a choice was made, the checkout was braved, the road home was driven, parcels were brought into the house and de-bagged, and the hard won cookie sheet was prepped for a test run in the oven. Only to find it didn't fit. Either the sheet is too big, or the oven is too small. Who knew that ovens are not universal in size, and that a standard full-size home would have a dainty little one? After trying the cookie sheet (several times, as if the first time was a mistake)at different angles and directions to confirm that it was indeed too large to fit, I realized that yes, it was rather bigger than others I'd bought in the past. It's a nifty thing though, with one rimless side so the cookies would theoretically slide right off onto the cooling rack, and the short sides had little wing-like bits perfect for clutching safely in mitted hands. I would like to point out that nowhere on its fact sheet does it mention it happens to be awkwardly out-sized and essentially useless to the averagely-ovened person.

Today I once again braved the roads and shops to hunt down normal, featureless cookie sheets. I grabbed the nearsest and cheapest one off the rack, went through the self-serve checkout and rather disparagingly brought it home. Two outings, hours of endurance, agonies of decision...and it was all worth it. We now have full cookie tins and happy tummies, and Christmas is coming soon!

21 December 2008

It's the simple things

What a good day this has been! There was a healthy snowfall here, so the world looks fresh and bright and ready for Christmas. Though the roads made travel an adventure, we all made it to Mass together, and after more than a week of having at least one person sick every day, we had a nice meal at the dining table with all four Advent candles lit. The house looks sparkly, and dressed in its best with the Christmas decorations in place...twinkle lights abound which always makes for a merry soul. My sister and I have been doing some crafting (she has been crafting, while I served as 'sous-crafter', very ably passing scissors and glue as needed). Cookies have been baked, or are ready to be baked, and plans are in place for The Turkey (which is big enough to require its own vehicle as we process to our Christmas destination).
My heart feels content with all I've been blessed with today. I'm looking forward to sharing Christmas Day with my family: all the little peanuts, and especially my dad. Being faced with the fragility of life has helped us all to focus on 'the important things' which also turn out to be the simple things.

20 December 2008

Claiming Christmas

I began this Advent with the desire to immerse myself in Christmas preparations. Now, with one week left I've toned down my ambitions. I'm exhausted from the 'seasonal bling' and noise out there in the world. Everything flashes and waves and moves at warpspeed...but as fast as it whirls past, I notice that very little of it actually has to do with Christmas.

My fondest memories of Christmas are from our years in Europe, where the preparation and celebration is quieter and more focused. I loved the outdoor markets with the simple wooden stalls that looked like stables strung with lights. Shops would display Christmas ornaments in their windows, usually made of wood or was always so beautiful and glad-making. There would be special treats on offer made of gingerbread and marzipan, available only at this time. The buildup was not as frantic we practice here...for one thing, it began later, and was not as consumer-focused. Europeans don't (or didn't) go in for the battery-powered gift giving that North Americans have perfected. I don't mean to set up Europeans as the perfect guardians of Christmas traditions but I freely admit to preferring their approach in this matter.
I'm all for brightening the long winter nights with twinkly lights. And, songs about corn cob pipes, chestnuts, and sleigh rides are heartwarming --they could be sung whenever there is snow on the ground -- but winter and Christmas are not interchangeable. I propose reclaiming Christmas from the madness of "Happy Hyundai Days" and "Boxing Week sales" with a return to simplicity. I think the presents and other hoopla is a misguided attempt to take the easy way out. Deep down we know that this Holy Day is meant to inspire generosity and gratitude; but rather than be generous with our time, patience, service etc., we spend some money and cross a name of the list. This approach is misguided however, because we're stressed and broke from all the shopping and gatherings. Doesn't simple sound wonderful in comparison?
A simple Christmas would look something like this:
- time given to preparing spiritually through reflection and going to Confession. Christmas is about beginnings - it's the Birthday of our Lord, and the start of a new Church year. It's always good to know where you've been, and where you are before you shoulder your pack for a new journey...and always good to do so with a clean slate!

- giving (time or money) to a local charity. We all have a great deal to be grateful for. We all have something in abundance and should share it. Christmas is an obvious time to be generous in this way.

- preparing the home (cleaning, decorating). This ties in with the clean slate we need for ourselves. Why not clean our home for the same reason? It is an acknowledgement of the occasion, and a way of giving honour. It's a signal to ourselves and others of the significance we place on this day.

- a delicious, lingering, long-talking dinner. A family meal, unhurried and enjoyed...the glue that holds the family together. And this is definitely a day about family.

- giving a carefully chosen gift, according to family tradition. Much as I am appalled (and honestly, this word is not too strong for my feelings on the subject) at the hyper-importance of 'holiday spending' I do also recognize that gift giving is integral to Christmas. (The Three Kings come to mind). It is important for us to give, but the giving is empty if done for its own sake.

- Church. Midnight Mass is one of the most beautiful liturgies of the whole year. No matter what else is going on in my life, Midnight Mass brings peace and contentment to my heart. Besides, all the Kwanza and season's greetings cannot negate the truth, that Christmas celebrates the birth of Christ.
In these last days of Advent, I hope you are able to prepare your heart and home for Christmas. I hope too, that you receive a new measure of peace and sure knowledge of God's great love for you.

17 December 2008


Do you not know or have you not heard? The LORD is the eternal God, creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint nor grow weary, and His knowledge is beyond scrutiny. He gives strength to the fainting; for the weak He makes vigor abound. Though young men faint and grow weary, and youths stagger and fall, They that hope in the LORD will renew their strength, they will soar as with eagles' wings; They will run and not grow weary, walk and not grow faint.

~Isaiah 40: 28-31

In a previous post I used the word 'just' as in 'do enough to just get by'. It's a little word with a lot of influence. 'Just' gives permission for mediocrity, doing as little as possible. 'Just' is wimp of a word, but it can be dangerous, because it can seduce us into being comfortably numb.

Isaiah 40 encourages us to seek the Lord, and promises us that despite our hardships, He will give us strength not 'just' to survive, but to run and to fly. Some people believe that if you pray just right, God will bless you with success and abundance. I've heard this called the Prosperity Gospel which is essentially that turning your life over to Him brings riches and happiness. That sounds warm and fuzzy, but it overlooks some important points, the foremost being that God's priority is our salvation, not our wealth, stature, success and so on. The prosperity gospel takes the easy way out: it's 'just enough to get by', the mediocre effort. Salvation requires transformation - rebirth. Ask any mother: birth is a painful, uncomfortable experience.

"They that hope in the Lord..." Hope is expectant, it is desirous, it is alive and vibrant. 'Hope' is not compatible with 'just' because 'hope' does not settle, but reaches for more. God really wants that from us. He is "eternal God, Creator of the ends of the earth", and certainly that is big enough for us to place our hope in.

The importance of trees

Symbols are important: they're a shortcut to mutual understanding. For example, when a snake appears in a fairytale, the author is alerting you to the presence of evil without having to spell it out.

Christianity has its symbols as well; many of which are familiar sights at this time of year such as candy canes and wreaths. Sadly though, we're losing touch with the meaning behind the symbols, and the symbols themselves are becoming weak.

One of my favourite fixtures of Christmas is the tree. Here's what the Holy Father said about them this week:

VATICAN CITY, DEC. 15, 2008 ( "With its
loftiness, its green [color] and the lights in its branches, the Christmas tree is a symbol of life that points to the mystery of Christmas Eve," says Benedict XVI.With this, the Pope explained Friday the Christian meaning of the Christmas tree. He was speaking to the delegation from the Austrian region that donated the 108-foot-tall tree in St. Peter's Square."Christ, the Son of God, brings to the dark, cold, unredeemed world in which he was born, a new hope and a new splendor," the Holy Father said.

In winter, while everything else sleeps, the evergreen gives us hope of new life...of eternal life. That's something the most artfully decorated white plastic tree can't give.

(The Vatican tree is lit with over 1,000 lights and 2,000 ornaments and after Christmas it will be recycled to make toys and furniture for children.)

15 December 2008


When it is all over you will not regret having suffered; rather you will regret having suffered so little, and suffered that little so badly.
-- St. Sebastian Valfre

When I read this quotation from good St. Sebastian, I tried to imagine myself regretting not having suffered more. My life is fairly easy: I have health, employment, family, a sound mind...and yet there is struggle and hardship which I am usually trying to avoid. I know people who really do suffer, through the loss of loved ones, physical challenges, chronic financial shortfalls, deeply unhappy marriages, and so on. I have wondered how they persevere, and I have been asked by them what it means, or why it is permitted, that there should be pain and suffering in the world. I offer here only a few thoughts.

St. Sebastian's are words for sober reflection. It is often hard, in the course of everyday ordinary life, to have an eternal perspective. We can get stuck in a rut of survival, of trying to 'just get by'. When today is the same as yesterday, and yesterday was no jubilee, where's the inspiration to look up, spiritually and physically?

Monotony and tedium are soporific, as is (unfortunately) level ease. They cause the spirit, the mind, and the heart to drift into sleep, to no longer be aware of Beauty or Truth. To experience suffering is like being poked with a stick: it wakes us up, focuses our attention, sharpens our vision. When there is trouble or strife, our instinct is to reach for help; the cry of our heart is a child's cry for its parent. For a soul disposed to perceive Truth, life's difficulties are opportunities to become acquainted with the mercy of God.

I walked to work a few days ago, after a heavy snowfall and in frigid temperatures. The few people I passed were as bundled up as I was, and as we trekked through unbroken snow we shared a smile of acknowledgement: we had survived it, and there we were, getting on with things...wasn't it great? We have months of this challenge ahead, and when it's over and the sun shines warmly and the earth turns green once again, our spirits will exult and we will delight in the new beauty we see around us. So, being shaken by trials can help us grow in strength and learn to appreciate the blessings more evident in calmer times of life.

This is not something to be taken lightly: being awake is important. A soul has to be alert in order to perceive God, to recognize the dignity in each person, and to fully realize its own potential. Suffering doesn't suddenly become easier with this knowledge, but it can be a comfort to know that it isn't without purpose.

14 December 2008


Rejoice! Today is the third Sunday of Advent - Pink Sunday, Joy Sunday. Let us lift our voices with angel choirs and rejoice in the Lord always.

The readings for today make the point over and over: rejoice; share your joy; and in your joy prepare yourself for the coming of the Lord. His time is now, He is equipping us now, calling us now.

The first reading is one of my favourites, and in fact is something of a recurring theme in my life:

The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; He has sent me to bring glad tidings to the lowly, to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners, To announce a year of favor from the LORD and a day of vindication by our God, to comfort all who mourn; To place on those who mourn in Zion a diadem instead of ashes, To give them oil of gladness in place of mourning, a glorious mantle instead of a listless spirit. They will be called oaks of justice, planted by the LORD to show his glory.

Isaiah 61:1-3

This passage is a reminder to be alive in every be aware of each little moment of joy. (Joy is quieter, deeper, more substantial than happiness; my joy is rooted in the certainty of God's love for me), and to share that joy with others. The Lord's anointing will bring glad tidings, healing, liberty, freedom, comfort, gladness. All these things He promises, and all these He gives, even amidst poverty, heartbreak, captivity, mourning.

We all experience hardships, trials and sufferings, but His promise is that we will also experience joy, renewal and healing. Today in particular is a day to remember that promise and rejoice in it. One thing that strikes me in this scripture, is that God will not just give us good things, He will give us what we need, in place of what we suffer. He is able to transform our ashes into diamonds, and surely that is reason to rejoice.

10 December 2008

Good link

Forever in blue jeans lately talks about the dearth of anything but left-of-centre news sources. That made me remember No apologies. Here's what they're about:

No Apologies is the broadcast ministry of the ECP (Equipping Christians for the Public Square) Centre. We are the “Moral Sanity Revolution”.
No Apologies promises to advance consistent social conservative thoughts and values through the delivery of high quality, timely, and accurate news and commentary.

08 December 2008


Another installment of the Cute Things Kids Say.

I write my name Nephew T. Is there another Nephew in your class? Is that why you include 'T'? [asks inquisitive Aunt to Number Two Nephew, as he does his homework] No, I'm the only Nephew in my class. But there is a Rebecca!*
*obviously Nephew T is not his real name and initial.

I bumped the house! [distraught Number Four Nephew, after running into the wall 'cause he was looking over his shoulder while moving full steam ahead]

Can I have another fish sandwich, without the, you know, fish?

Go pick up your mitten! [frazzled Mom to Number One Son] Man! Now I'll never have time to play!

Oh duckie? Duckie? Where are you? [Number Four Nephew bathing in the kitchen sink, with rubber duckie in hand] Coming, duckie? Ok, duckie?

Little girls I know, cute as buttons each of them, call tights (stockings) Long Socks. I love it! Wouldn't you rather wear Long Socks than nylons or even tights? Sounds pretty comfy to me.

Blatchford in Globe and Mail

Just a quick link to an article in the December 8 edition of the Globe and Mail by Christie Blatchford (who also wrote the wonderful book 15 Days).

Harper not out of line for wanting to crush the opposition.

07 December 2008


(That is, peanuts as in Carter, not Schultz)

Like many families, we have long-held and beloved Christmas traditions. One of them is bringing out and setting up the Creche during Advent.

Our Nativity set has been carted across oceans, and stored in various attics, basements and barns over the years - always carefully wrapped and stored away after each Epiphany by mom, into its own special blue plastic bag. Last Epiphany was no different as it was packed away, and we thought this Advent would be no different as we prepared to set it up again. We were not expecting what we found in that special blue plastic bag, that's for sure!

This particular Creche is rather rustic...a wooden barn, with real straw, and simple figures of the principle players, from Blessed Mother to sheep. The barn contains a little loft above the main room: this is where a little mouse usually takes up residence - a felt character added to the cast of characters years ago. (Even mice worship at the Manger, no?) Mom was in the process of assembling the movable bits, and tidying up the straw into a pleasingly artful arrangement, when she noticed a peanut nestled in the straw of the loft. That was rather odd, as peanuts have never featured in our Manger scenes in the past. What was even odder was that the peanut was not had a companion. In fact, several companions.

As mom pulled blades of straw out, trying to come to grips with what she was seeing, the peanuts multiplied by the tens and then by the handfulls. My cupped hands were filled four times and emptied into the kitchen garbage, before I gave up and merely dumped peanuts straight into the blue bag.

You have to imagine mom's startled exclamations of "How?" "This is nuts!" and "What's going on?" with me on my knees in helpless giggles as mom got more and more baffled, straw drifted down around us, and holy figures were unceremoniously pulled out in the hunt for nuts. Honestly, the Creche turned out to be literally packed full of peanuts. Mom was shaking it overhead, and tilting it from side to side in an attempt to get stragglers out through the loft opening, or trying to scoop them out with a long-handled spoon. And they kept coming, and kept coming. We had them rolling under our feet all over the dining room floor. They were tucked into strands of straw, or lodged between the feet of shepherds. Have you ever struggled to open a bag of candy in the theatre, only to have it spill all over the floor and down the tiers in a long, drawn-out cascade of noise? That's the sound these peanuts made as they came tumbling out of the Creche in the hundreds.

We speculated as to how peanuts came to be in the Manger in the first place. Did little hands decide it would be fun to put Oma's treats in with Baby Jesus last Christmas? But Oma is meticulous and very observant: she would have noticed such out-of-place residents as these. Or perhaps a little foraging critter stored up its winter provisions in the tightly sealed blue plastic bag with no holes. I can't imagine how many trips it would have taken from bird feeder to barn with peanut-stuffed cheeks to fill that Creche...certainly a whole summer's worth of back-and-forthing.

If indeed it was a little chipmunk who did all that hard work, my sincere apologies for undoing all your efforts. Please do not come searching for the Creche in the hopes of finding your stash...a nice fresh pile of peanuts awaits you outside. (and this year when we put the Creche away, we're going to use Rubbermaid!)

04 December 2008

The podium

Never has the setting up of a podium been so exciting! A nation was rivetted as doors opened, were closed, blew open, were closed again...then were opened! RCMP stood outside! The podium was wheeled into place! Wires were draped and plugged in! Aides walked around!  And we, the people, held our breath as learned and well-groomed commentators speculated as to what was happening in Rideau Hall.

There was much talk about how long the meeting of Prime Minister and Governor General was taking, that it ran much longer than was expected.  Surely it was significant?  It must mean she was consulting with consultants, or talking to the coalition, or imposing restrictions and expectations, or maybe they just ordered coffee?  (that last was my own speculation) (and have you noticed how often people say Governor Generals?  O, woe to our education system)

Finally...the moment arrived and PM Harper stepped to the podium, wearing a very conciliatory red scarf.  He was confident, to the point, rational and reasoned.  I had the same impression I had of him during the English language debates: he is sensible, does not respond to heated challenges or rhetoric.

Here's hoping for smooth governance in the New Year, wise leadership, and sound stewardship.

Stand down

Prorogue.  Ubiquitous in Canadian speech today, it means, according to my friends at Merriam-Webster Online : to suspend or end a legislative session (dating back to the 15th century, so this is not a new idea, but it is fairly new to Canadians)

Prime Minister Harper and the elected Conservative Party of Canada have some breathing room to construct a new budget agreeable to both sides of the aisle.  The honourable opposition, in the form of this unsavoury alliance, has some breathing room to, well, breathe, unclench, squat and twirl.  By that I mean to cool down, think with level heads, and find a spirit of cooperation.

I have already admitted to leaning in the Conservative direction, politically speaking.  I have tried, however, throughout this upheaval to hear commentary with impartial ears...and it has been very hard.  The thing is, many complaints being fired at PM Harper - he is arrogant, is not willing to compromise or listen to advice etc. etc. are things I felt very strongly about PM Chretien, a man, I'm sad to say, I did not like or respect at all.  So it's just as well I'm not a political pundit or journalist.  I will keep my thoughts and opinions within my humble Lighthouse.

Once again, I encourage Canadians to be informed, to be vocal and on guard.  For those of you who pray, please do not forget to pray for our leaders.  They have an awesome burden of responsibility.

03 December 2008

Be armed

I'm proud of the response from Canadians during this parliamentary turmoil. Canadians are not typically vocal or opinionated on matters political. Perhaps the drama and posturing up on the Hill is like a stick poking the bear...and the bear has woken at last. The Canadian electorate has been asleep a long time; it's good to see you up and about, and hear your voice!
It's not just coalition protestors I want to motivate. If you sincerely believe that an alliance of opposition parties is the very best way for Canada to move forward, then please express your opinion in public forums: write your newspaper, phone in to radio shows, write your MP.
I'm on the other side of this fence. I believe Dion has already stepped down, and therefore the Liberal party is in effect leaderless; the NDP is the mouthpiece of unions, not the most disinterested, national-minded of groups; the Bloc's whole raison d'etre is to break apart our country (their view of it is different, but a broken country would be the result). Dion's poltical cache comes from his early desire to undermine the Bloc within Quebec. Liberals and NDP generally do not see eye to eye. How a three-headed monster can govern a country in an effective Parliament is uncertain.
And now, Elizabeth May (it is speculated) will benefit from this proposed coalition government as well. My opinion is that she has pushed the Green Party onto the national stage during the televised debates. Now, the Greens have a valid concern that environmental issues should be considered in the machinery of government and legislation. However, her party has not yet matured into a national level party that should have a seat at the table with the main parties. Win a riding...just one riding, then we can talk again. Ms. May really should not merit a Senate seat for riding Dion's coat tails.
All this to say, I am not an unquestioning PM Harper supporter. I will say that I voted Conservative, because I believe the traditional conservative principles most closely align with my own views. I think Mr. Harper would do well to reign himself in a tad, but in general I believe him to be a strong leader, and I admire his implacability. Our system, different from that of the US, is such that the leader of the 'winning' party has the power. The challenge comes from balancing that power with accepting wise counsel, and having confidence in your leadership team.
Please take the time and make the effort to arm yourself with the facts. It's good to have an opinion, but opinion is not the same as information. Read articles from reputable news sources (not just blogs, as interesting as they are). Once you have equipped yourself with fact, take the time and make the effort to share your opinion with the appropriate people.

So, once again, here are some links to give you a chance to express your views:

Conservative party of Canada
Liberal party of Canada
NDP of Canada
Governor General of Canada

Don't forget newspapers and petitions. Make your voice heard!

01 December 2008

Call to arms

Dear fellow Canadians:
Please take up your sword and undertake to fight. (By which I mean you should pick up a pen, dial your mobile, or login and contact your local and federal politicians). It seems that honourable Misters Dion, Duceppe and Layton have forgotten that we (not two months ago) elected, in the usual way, a Conservative government. In part, said election was called in response to repeated threats by the opposition to pursue no-confidence and overthrow the government.

During the election campaign, the Liberal Party, in particular, made the economy a particular focus, and proposed the 'Green Shift' plan as their answer to the current economic crisis. The NDP held to their traditional socialist position of asking nothing of people and giving them everything. The Bloc, well, no disrespect meant, but they even less than the NDP would be expected to follow up on their promises, so did anyone pay attention to their platform?

Prime Minister Harper and the Conservative Party proposed a radical economic that it wasn't radical. The main idea seemed to be: if we can't afford it, we can't have it, can't do it, can't fund it, can't support it, can't buy it. Sort of the approach we need to take as individuals. And as individuals, we seem to have agreed with the approach, because we voted the Conservatives in again. With more votes than in the previous election, it should be noted.

Now, not quite two months after that election, the Prime Minister has proposed withdrawing the monies each party receives for every vote cast in their favour in the course of an election. Perhaps there are other reasons, but I suspect this is a big cause for the current attempt by the opposition parties to overthrow our duly elected government, and seek to gain power in a coalition government, consisting of the Liberal, Bloc and NDP parties. Who would lead it, I've no idea. Could Canada potentially be governed by a party that believes adamantly in the sovereignty of one of 10 provinces and 3 territories? (essentially meaning that the one province is superior to, and apart from, all the others). Didn't Dion step down from Liberal leadership? Shouldn't the Liberals sort out their own chaos and confusion before attempting to spread that chaos and confusion nationwide?

Regardless your economic outlook, surely this drastic move by the opposition is senseless and heedless. I encourage you to write to each of the three parties, or attend one of the rallies being planned in support of Canada this coming weekend.

Stephane Dion:
Jack Layton:
Governor General:

For rally info:
To sign an online petition:

Please get involved.

27 November 2008

Waiting for Advent

Advent is the time Catholics set aside to prepare themselves for Christmas - their homes, their families, and their interior disposition. It can be very challenging to stay in preparation mode while the world is already 'celebrating Christmas'. (I use finger-waggle-quotes, because I don't really mean the true definition of either word in that phrase, but now is not the time to unpack that further) With this being such a festive season, and with chocolate on offer everywhere, I often have to remind myself to attend to preparing for the spiritual truth of this Holy Day. (Much easier to do during Lent, because the bleak end to winter lends itself naturally to inner deprivation and sacrifice.)
This year, it seems particularly important to bring out the old traditional ways, to spend Advent in preparation, and then to really celebrate Christmas. I'm eager to clean everything, and bake scads of cookies, and cover every surface in bits of greenery (there will be no white artificial tree in this house!)
One of the familiar sights of Advent is the wreath. On each of the four Sundays before Christmas, another candle is lit, so that as Christmas approaches, the light from the wreath grows brighter. Which leads to what I want this Christmas: for my home, my family, my interior disposition to be suffused in the warm Light of Christ.
I am leaping ahead through time to leave you with one of the O Antiphons, the one meant for December 21:
O Dayspring, Brightness of the everlasting light, Son of justice, come to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death!
*from Isaiah 9:2. The people that walked in darkness, have seen a great light: to them that dwelt in the region of the shadow of death, light is risen.

26 November 2008

When laughter meets shoes

Two posts collided this morning, as I was folding laundry. I had Number Four Nephew balancing on one leg atop the overturned laundry basket, as I crouched over a stubborn shoe, trying to get it on a stubborn foot (or was I trying to get a stubborn foot into a stubborn shoe?) Little hands were clutching my hair as he tried to stay upright...and I was overcome by the picture we must have made, and dissolved into giggles I had no hope of controlling. He must have thought he was supposed to laugh too, but he obviously had no clue what his demented aunt thought was funny. The look on his face, and the tone of his laugh remined me so much of my dad, who has often been in the same situation over the years: bemused that I could find such a thing funny, but willing to humour me.

Laughter is such a beautiful thing.

25 November 2008

Shoes on

A good day for Number Four Nephew is being able to say goodbye to everyone…because he’s leaving. Usually he’s the one being left, and it makes him so sad. At the age of two, his world is bounded by the closed front door -- a fact not easily understood by his big, adventurous heart .
When he’s the one staying behind, he hovers nearby, beginning his goodbyes long before people are out the door; once they are outside, his cries of farewell become louder, and often include tears. He’ll stand at the open door, calling after them when they’re long out of sight. It tears at my heart every time.
So, it’s such a joy to be able to take him with me when I go out. Calling for him to get his shoes signals a treat and lights up his face like nothing else can. He’ll say it over and over again: “Get shoes on? Get shoes on?” And he’s reaching for the door handle long before I’m ready to head out.
He gives all he’s got to these goodbyes; he wants everyone to know he is going outside, it’s his turn, he is the one leaving this time. He holds my hand as we take the one little step down from porch to sidewalk, and, clutching my finger, he calls out “Bye, Mummy! Bye! Bye, Mummy!” From that point on, it doesn’t matter to him where we go: he’s outside!


Have you ever laughed so hard your abs ached? I hope you have. It means you have a sense of humour, which is, sadly, the overlooked sense. The best laughter is when you have the ability to let go of all reserve, to completely trust the person you're with, letting mirth and glee burst out of you... even when the cause makes no sense at all. Maybe you can't explain it to someone else; maybe you can't remember why you're laughing in the first place. It never works second-hand, so try to be in on it from the start.

My dad has a wonderful sense of humour. He's an intelligent man, vastly entertained by the silliness of silly people. He loves to share 'the latest' from his store of 'guess what they've done now' stories, usually involving engineers, or politicians. We've come to recognize the signs: the little head waggle, the finger tapping on the table top...his way of preparing us for a good one.

He is amused by my sister and I: we riff off each other, and have routines and dialogues going back to the dawn of time. Mostly I think he is amused by how amusing we find ourselves. Mom, too, tickles his funny bone. He doesn't quite understand why, when you find a rock or a twig while on a walk, you bring it home...but after 40 years he's learned to accept it, and see the humour in it.

These things inspire a quiet chuckle, or amused disbelief: signs of an agile mind and quick wit. Real ab-aching laughter though, comes when he's watching Laurel and Hardy. When Stan stumbles, bemused, into some catastrophe, and Ollie, exasperated, has to set things to rights, the occasional chuckles become steady chuckles, becoming almost giggle-like and then tears actually fall. I love the sound he makes when it almost gets too much for him and he can barely contain it. At that point, I don't even know why I'm laughing anymore, I'm just joining in his delight, and enjoying being in on it with him.

24 November 2008

Rose explained

The Little Flower

Rose is not the real name of the woman in The Story of a Rose. I chose to call her Rose because Therese of Lisieux had a part to play in the story (she "showered roses"); because a florist made a providential mistake; and because yellow roses are her favourite flower.

At one particularly difficult time in her discernment, Rose asked a sign of Therese and was very specific: roses please, and they must be yellow. Receiving roses would be an encouragement to maintain courage, patience, and trust where this particular man was concerned. In a most random and unexpected fashion, roses - and yellow ones at that - were left for her in a refrigerator!

Rose placed an order with the local florist for enough yellow roses to compose her bouquets, boutonniers and Church arrangements. The day before The Blessed Event, she went to the florist to pick up the flowers, only to discover the order was not processed. Fortunately, the shop had sufficient yellow and white roses to meet her needs, and insisted on making a gift of them!

Don't you love it when little details fall into place like that? And so Rose's secret identity was born.


...meaning Cute Things Kids Say.
I have the great privelege of living in close proximity to 5 delightful, energetic, and interesting boys. I hope their wonderful mommy doesn't mind me appropriating their words.

  • You are the best mommy that ever survived.

  • I never had any patience, and I never will have. Get used to it!

  • Oh! I didn't hear you before; but this time you yelled just the right amount!

  • Don't chew your fingers! Your fingernails are there to protect your fingers [said wise mommy to little boy] No they're not! They're for chewing!

  • Go out and walk around the yard five times [said wrathful mommy to squirmy little boy] But that will take me hours!

    There will be future ctks posts...every day provides new material!

22 November 2008

Story of a Rose

The first time I met Rose was in the Church basement, clutching a styrofoam cup of black coffee. Our road to friendship was marked by her conviction I would come to like the Bitter Bean if only I would drink it black. I could never bring myself to see the matter her way, but we did become friends, roommates, and true spiritual sisters.
It didn't take long before Rose was at the heart of parish life. Her sincere love for God was reflected in her love for people. She didn't limit her time, service, or care for her contemporaries, being just as giving of herself with those more advanced in age, and always eager to hold the wee ones close to her heart. (It was a common joke to speculate how long it would take her to find and hold any baby in the room)
We are all unique and reflect different aspects of our Creator; it is worthwhile to uncover the particular way each person shows God to the world, as we can come to know the Real Presence of Him in our hearts if we're paying attention.
Rose is one of those rare and precious people for whom faith and life are seemless; there is no disconnect between what she believes, what she teaches, and how she lives. Knowing her is a catechesis on Christian charity, abandonment to God's Will, and forgetfullness of self.
Back in our days of being Young Adults, and gleefully speculating on our Future Life, a common word was 'vocation'. It seemed every conversation wound it's way around to the discussion of vocations, the merits of each, which was to be our particular call, and speculation as to when it would finally begin. We spent a lot of time waiting and lamenting, it seems.
While the question of vocation also occupied Rose's thoughts and conversations, she remained steadfast that for her it was marriage and family. From a very young age the desire of her heart was to have a family, to raise up Godly children, to establish a loving home of her own. She believed unwaveringly that this desire was itself a gift from God, and that as He is a faithful and generous Father, the cry of her heart would be answered.
Holding strong to this certainty, she was obedient as God appeared to lead her away from her desire, by sending her to an apostolate of celibates, and sincerely discerned whether she was to make her long-term stay permanent. She gave several years of service to a school of prayer and evangelization. There were several men along the way who may have tempted her to grasp for her own answer to prayer, but she resolved to place her trust completely in God, waiting for His gift.
It happened that once again her life underwent change, she moved away from friends and family and began a new undertaking with no clear promise of consolation. It was difficult and at times daunting. Several years passed, and Rose began to wonder if maybe it was time to move on, and make her own plans for her future.
Then it happened; her promised beloved arrived. With little fanfare he slipped into her life as if he'd always been there. Together they learned to negotiate the terrain of relationships; they discovered areas needing compromise, and learned that issues they thought were non-negotiable turned out to be unimportant. Most of all they learned what love looks like.
Less than eleven months after finding each other they were married. The day was wet, but every heart there witnessing the sacrament could see only the light of joy in husband and wife. They spoke their vows quietly, with conviction and dignity. Rose made a beautiful bride (as brides usually do) but in her case it came from the deep peace and delight that comes from witnessing first-hand the unbounded love and generosity of God the Father for His daughter.

21 November 2008


My dad is dying.

That's a rather bald statement. I'm not trying to garner sympathy; only, this fact is profoundly filling every aspect of my life. Anything I write now is going to be influenced by how he is doing, how mom is coping, and how the rest of us are holding up at any given moment.

At various times I have broken down on the shoulder of one friend or another; once I even inflicted rather embarrassingly personal grief on a virtual stranger - virtual in the cyber sense of the word. I wonder why I did this? I'm not usually one to share my life with people I don't know. I resent personal questions from any but my close friends, and have ready-made answers for when I find myself in those situations (such as a new job) where people want to know my story. So, to find myself now telling everyone this very awkward fact, and shamelessly leaking tears in public is...well...baffling.

Grief isn't meant to be kept private, I don't think. It can't be healthy to deny loss and sorrow and anger and all the other emotions that ride tandem with grief. Of course it wouldn't do to assume the fetal position while doing the marketing, or rage at the theatre usher; there is a proper time and place for public expression of grief.

I am a person of faith, by which I mean to say I am Catholic. I am fortunate to have faith, to believe in something much bigger than myself and my own small hopes, dreams and fears. I believe that God is loving and merciful; that He loves me and my father; that He has been preparing Pop for some time now for his final moment, to make a good and holy death. I know with all my heart that we go on to Something More, and that God promises eternal life with Him.

I thought having all that knowledge would be a consolation when faced with losing a loved one. It isn't, really. There is the grief on one side all by itself, and over there, somewhere separate and apart is the consolation. At this stage, anyway, I can't seem to hold on to both at the same time.

Looking at strangers, I find myself wondering if they, too, have a black hole of sorrow within? Does the human heart expand in order to contain all this emotion, or is that the purview of another organ? So many times in the past when friends and colleagues endured the death of a loved one, I would feel sorry for them, would pray for them and the dearly departed, but had no idea how very changed they were by the experience. From now on, I will want to envelop each one in a big hug...just holding on tight, so they can feel the constriction of me trying to keep them from falling apart.

As for the public expression of grief, we are far too clinical, cold, and puritanical in North America. I should say Canada, as I don't really know if we are the same as Americans in this issue. We ought not close ourselves in our homes, bearing up stoically and stiff-upper-lipped. We need a few days, at least, to really weep and wail and gnash and keen, without apology. After that we can be expected to conduct ourselves more seemly in public in order to not discommode others.

If you happen to see me in the store, can of tomato soup in hand with tears dripping off my chin, offer me a tissue and a smile, or just quietly walk away, but think kindly of me either way: a breaking heart is a painful thing.

12 September 2008

The simplest happiness

It’s been a rainy day. The kind where you’re glad to be indoors with a good book. I have a good book: a lovely Georgette Heyer I either have never read, or haven’t read in so long I forget what it’s about and enjoy as if it were new. I’m not reading though…I have words pressing on me, wanting to be set free.

I’ve set up the laptop on the dining room table, and from here I am part of everything happening in the house, and yet separate from the action. I am an observer in the lighthouse. From here I can see my sister reading Jane Austen on the sofa, and behind her, stands St. Joseph in a lovely transom window. Through the window I see trees in variegated shades of green. Because of the rain, the trunks and branches are picked-out more darkly than usual, providing a sharper contrast between the transient and what will survive the winter. The boys are in the other room, watching a typical, high-adventure type of boy movie, happy as clams. (Are clams happy? I’ve always wondered. Personally, I would not enjoy sloshing about in the water, getting sand in all my assorted nooks and crannies)

This is a perfect example of how deep happiness lies in simplicity. It has not been a day of whirlwind activity, constant stimulation, shopping, or entertainment. I have been in the presence of love…love of my family, and the deep abiding love of my Heavenly Father.

07 September 2008

Rainy Sundays

There is great wisdom in God's design. Labour is offset by rest, in our days, weeks, years, and lifetime. A Rainy Sunday is one of those lovely occasions of rest. This is a day to feel mellow, to slowly reflect on important questions, like whether to have a cup or tea, or go for the hot chocolate; to read Jane Austen or Georgette Heyer...or just flip idly through the glossy pages of a decadent magazine. On a day like today, I feel still and silent inside...the incessant chatter of You Should is absent, and I can hear myself breathing. This is a day for listening to Dvorak or Duffy, with a well worn journal on my lap and the perfect pen within reach for when inspiration strikes. This is not a day for getting outraged over politics or world events. I am not going to fuss about budgets or housework. This is the Lord's Day, and He is asking me to hush.